Renault’s moves mirror those throughout the industry, as automakers increasingly use teams scattered in global design centers to design more vehicles to differentiate their product lines. “In 2008, we will be launching one vehicle per month. By the end of 2007, we will have seven design centers,” said Denis Visconte, a General Manager at Renault.
Digital design tools are perhaps the biggest factor that lets companies work around the clock to create more designs. Speaking at a recent seminar for tool provider Autodesk, Visconte noted that design software tools are helping companies move their many projects into manufacturing with fewer glitches. “Whether to go to digital is not a question. We have to do it to reduce cost and delays, as we have an increasing number of projects,” he said.
One recent change is that the design files created by engineers are being used to generate visual images that let engineers and executives examine vehicles in different environments. These computer-generated images can be created in far less time than clay models.
When simulations replace clay models, it is far easier to present executive teams with a number of options. “After our concepts are frozen, we go from 20 proposals down to six or seven, then four or five, and finally two and then the winning design,” Visconte said.
He noted that recent advances in both semiconductors and software have made it far more practical to eliminate physical mockups and prototypes. “It’s more and more difficult to tell the difference between computer-generated images and photos,” Visconte said.
Since 2006, Renault has made more than 3000 computer-generated movies. “Those movies include 2 km of roadway. With the computers, we can show the vehicle from the front or rear, from high or low. Those things would be difficult to do with a camera; you would need a helicopter. We can also put two cars in the movie for proposals one and two,” Visconte said. He added that the developers spend a lot of time deciding on the speed and position of the cameras.
Though images look fine on small displays, showing movies on life-size screens still poses some problems. “For large screens, we use three projectors. It’s difficult to maintain color consistency. We go to a lot of effort to generate the proper colors,” Visconte said.
Another challenge is to translate data files created by design engineers into formats used by artists to create these movies. “We need to be efficient,” said Visconte. “We don’t want to work with digital models that have to be re-created by the vision team.”
One aspect of this is to use similar tools at each of the firm’s global design centers. “We guarantee consistency from site to site, using standards so people can evaluate proposals from different design centers,” Visconte said.